One of the most amazingly bizarre reinterpretations of the Dracula story is airing this season on NBC, and if you are not watching you're seriously missing out. Campy and ambitious, this Dracula series manages to be a completely unhinged transformation of the original novel, while also paying thoughtful homage to it. Here are 10 reasons to tune in.
1. Dracula is a mad scientist
One of the best things about this show is that it reinvents Dracula as science fiction. Jonathan Rhys Meyers has been styled to look almost exactly like Nikola Tesla did in the late 19th century, and his Dracula is a crazy inventor who has almost perfected wireless electricity. He has an insane mad scientist lab with a giant Tesla coil, and he's teamed up with other scientists (including Van Helsing!) to find a cure for vampirism. This is a world where magic and science have merged, with just a touch of steampunk thrown into the mix.
2. Mina is a geek
In the original novel by Bram Stoker, the character Mina Harker is portrayed as a modern, liberated woman. She uses the era's high technology, like dictation machines, to help track down Dracula. She's been trained as an office worker, knows shorthand, and basically keeps the vampire hunt completely organized. We rarely see this in any adaptation of the story – usually Mina is just Jonathan Harker's wife, fainting away at the sight of Dracula. But in this series, Mina is an incredibly successful med student studying to be a physician. The best part? Her struggle to be a professional woman is turned into a tremendously interesting subplot.
3. The bad guys are a group of Satanic fossil fuel magnates
I think this is the craziest and most wonderful part of the Dracula adaptation. We already have Dracula-as-Tesla, so it makes a nutso kind of sense that London's secret monster-hunting organization, the Order of the Dragon, is comprised of fossil fuel magnates. They are trying to retain an Illuminati-like control over the world by monopolizing its fossil fuel reserves as well as the industries that help with fuel extraction and processing. There is literally an episode where Dracula and the Order of the Dragon are fighting to control a company that produces liquid coolant. Energy industry drama! And all the oil magnates have Satanic rituals with swords and funny sashes – just like in real life! The best part is that the vampire is on the side of alternative energy. This is just such a bonkers revision of the Dracula legend, and of contemporary environmental rhetoric around "energy vampires," that it goes straight from insane to lovable in 10 seconds.
4. Renfield is badass (in an aristocratic way)
There's a great twist on Renfield's character, too. I have never seen a Dracula adaptation where Renfield is anything but a sniveling worm, or a crazy minion. But in this series, played by Nonso Anozie (Game of Thrones) with incredible gravitas, Renfield is a complicated character who is far more sane than Dracula. We haven't got a back story on him yet, but we know that he teamed up with Dracula to run his energy companies. Sometimes he plays the manservant role, but in one incredible scene where he's negotiating a financial deal for Dracula, we realize that he is likely the mastermind behind Dracula's bid for power. When England's wealthy white elites underestimate Renfield, they do it at their own peril.
5. Fan service for the original novel, not the movies
Certainly you can enjoy the show without reading the original novel. But if you have read it, there are a ton of fun tweaks. First of all, I love that the novel's obsession with Dracula buying real estate in London has become an obsession with Dracula acquiring energy companies and petrochemical assets. It's a good way to update a plot about how an outsider would try to gain financial power at the turn-of-the-century. But there are other gems, too. Van Helsing is working with Dracula to come up with a cure for vampirism, which means the guy has switched sides. The back story on that is awesome. Plus, Mina's best friend Lucy – Dracula's first sexy, dimwit victim in the book – has a secret lesbian crush on Mina in the series. And nobody has put her in a wireless electric refrigerator yet – yay!
6. Random sexual liaisons inspired by female wrestling
No Dracula series would be complete without random, bloody sexual liaisons. Yep, we've got that. But it's not quite what you expect. Dracula has a taste for strong, independent women, so he finds himself accidentally dating the lead vampire hunter, Lady Jayne, in London. Once he realizes who she is, he needs her more than ever – not just for humping, but to get intel on the mysterious Order of the Dragon she works for. So he schemes to keep Lady Jayne hot for him by taking her to a secret, underground women's wrestling match. He knows that watching the ladies fight will get her worked up. And it does! Have I mentioned that I love this show? Women's wrestling followed by vampire sex equals awesome!
7. Dracula gives lectures on how women and working class people should have solidarity with each other
There is a whole subplot where Jonathan Harker, a journalist who has been hired by Dracula as a publicity flak, isn't properly respectful of Mina's career. One day when she visits him at the office, Mina overhears Jonathan telling his buddies that she'll turn her interests in a more "womanly direction" once they're married. Given that she's just spent years getting her medical degree, this is the worst insult ever. So she dumps him. And then Dracula gives Jonathan a huge lecture about how foolish he is for not respecting Mina's ambitions – especially since Jonathan himself has risen up from a lower class position. How great is it that the message is that Jonathan has to respect to Mina's career if he wants to marry her?
8. Twenty million things happen in every episode
The very best part of the subplot about Mina's career is that it doesn't feel heavy-handed because it comes in the middle of an episode where a zillion other things happen. In fact, that's every episode of Dracula. We whirl between relationship drama between Lucy and Mina, industrial magnate drama between Dracula and everybody, secret agenda drama with Renfield, mad science drama with Van Helsing, and hot sex scenes. The show has everything.
9. Henry VIII is now sucking blood!
If you ever watched The Tudors, where Dracula played Henry VIII, you know that Jonathan Rhys Meyers can bring the crazy scenery chewing required for this role. Imagine Henry VIII, and all those silky underwear sex scenes, with fangs! And he's yelling about ancient curses and sustainable energy instead of the Reformation! The only thing that's missing is Cromwell, and hopefully he'll show up now that his short-lived role on Sleepy Hollow is over. Meyers was totally made for this role, which requires the "bulgy-eyed intensity" acting he has completely mastered. Plus, for some reason Dracula is pretending to be American – so Meyers gets to do a silly American accent part of the time.
10. Everyone is extremely silly all the time and knows it and that is exactly right
Meyers' special skill as an actor is enhanced by the fact that this show never takes itself seriously. There is a lot of winking, and a lot of fun, even as Dracula is pounding his fist on the desk and demanding more coolant. What's terrific is that the show still manages to be gross and thrilling, smart and witty, even as the plot spins off into goofball territory. Partly the breakneck pace helps maintain this light tone. But I also think it's the creativity of the writing, and the sheer inventiveness of this science fictional, gaslamp thriller version of Dracula.
Don't believe me? Check out the next episode, which is airing next Friday. You have all week to catch up on the four previous episodes, which are available for free on Hulu.